Live At Newlands Tavern




And other parts of the puzzle

Standing around in a rough circle with this bunch of blokes I hardly knew and playing my songs to them on that long late summer day, deep into the afternoon in 1975, was a little intimidating.
The sun slashed though the blue smoke of hash joints and cigarettes; we drank pints of bitter that the owners of Newlands Tavern, located in Peckham in the south of London, had kindly allowed us to pull from the taps, with no charge that I can remember paying.
Things weren't gelling on that first rehearsal, I can tell you that much. Martin Belmont actually mentioned it to me later, apologizing for the lackluster nature of the band's attempts to pull off my material without anything approaching excitement. It didn't matter; it was our first attempt and compared with any bunch of musicians I'd done half-hearted rehearsals with before, little imagination was needed to tell that these guys were going to be very, very good backing me up.
We worked in a back room when the pub was closed after lunch, and the creaking, wooden stage of that venerable London venue, just a few feet away, started to look like something that would soon be within my reach, an idea hard to imagine mere months before.

It all started with an ad I placed in the back pages of the Melody Maker, one of the music rags that I devoured every week.
"Singer/songwriter needs band. Into Van Morrison, the Stones and Dylan," it said, or something very close to that.
In no time, people were responding to the ad, calling the gas station where I was working in Deepcut, my childhood home that I'd recently moved back into after a few years on the Hippie trail, dossing around in different countries with a guitar on my back, honing my skills at a leisurely pace.
Some dick who billed himself as a bass player called, insisting we meet at his "office," a pub a few villages away called "The Who'da Thot It" (keep saying it, it'll come to you); I drove miles and miles to meet a girl who could only play the licks of Paul Kossoff (very badly, too), the late great guitarist from the band Free, who I had seen a year or two before playing to about 30 people in the Gin Mill Club in Godalming, Surrey, before they broke with "All Right Now."
The trombone player whose ad seemed a permanent fixture in the paper ("Trombone Player Needs Work") called, but my horn section fantasies were not in the front line of my transom yet; they would soon emerge by the time I got to the recording studio, but first I needed a rock 'n' roll band: drums, guitars, and keyboards.
Eventually, a guy named Noel Brown got hold of me. He lived in a flat near Wandsworth, south London, and played great slide guitar and dobro. At last I'd found someone who didn't have the taint of progressive music hanging over him, a genre I'd long left behind (well, two years ago anyway) and was determined to wipe off the face of the earth with a whole new attitude; an attitude that at that time seemed only to exist in my head and on records that were made before 1970.
Noel introduced me to one Paul "Bassman" Riley, a guy I'd actually seen on stage playing bass in an outfit called Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers who were on the "Naughty Rhythms Tour."
I'd been reading about a band called Dr. Feelgood and went to check out this extravaganza in one of my old stomping grounds, the Guildford Civic Hall, a few miles from my village. Chilli Willi and the other band on the bill, the soul inflected Kokomo, were very good, but of course the Feelgoods were incendiary, and when I saw their suits, short hair and wickedly angry performance, I knew I was already on the right track.
You have to realize that progressive rock still ruled, and I was probably the only guy in the room,* apart from the band members on stage, who had got rid of his flowing mane for a near skinhead cut. I may have been ahead of my time for the suburbs cum country areas, but obviously this reversal of style was already happening in London, hence the ad in the Melody Maker. I needed other people who also knew that ELP were a load of bollocks, and I found them.
They were not Paul and Noel, though, who did rehearse a few times with me, along with various configurations of their musician friends, but when Paul introduced me to Dave Robinson, things changed rapidly.
He recorded my songs in his demo studio, located in a room in the Hope & Anchor, an Islington pub with a cellar-like venue in the bowels of the building.
Anyone who would play for a free pint was brought in by Dave to have a go on the demos, but he was stealthily formulating ideas about who my eventual backing band would consist of, and before I knew what was happening, a bunch of guys destined to become the Rumour were rehearsing with me in the aforementioned Newlands Tavern.
On the third day of rehearsal, Dave brought down a lanky bird-nosed fellow named Nick Lowe, who I would learn was another victim of a mysterious genre known as "pub rock."
(He was not the first contender for producer. Dave and I had had lunch not long before those rehearsals with Tim Moore, an American singer/songwriter who had recently scored a minor UK hit with a song called "Second Avenue." Dave, in his inscrutable fashion had apparently nixed that idea without much clarification in favour of Lowe.)
It was here, in Newlands Tavern, that we took the democratic tack of coming up with names for the band and then voting for the winner. I came up with Graham Parker and the Questions, but Brinsley's The Rumour obviously won.
The rest, as they say, is history, and if you want to read the most definitive history of the events and situations that led to my break into the music business, along with many others who gained from the smarts of Dave Robinson, among others, read Will Burch's "No Sleep Till Canvey Island: the great pub rock revolution"

It was some months into the beginning of my career when someone, a Rumour member or Robinson himself, gave me an actual Brinsley Schwarz album. The inappropriate term pub rock had been appearing in articles about me, and I was further confused when I listened to the Brinsley's album: "What the fuck has this lame country music got to do with me?" I wondered.
Whatever, it matters not when I point out to journalists the exasperating irrelevance of this term, which I did just 4 days ago. It will doubtless be used in my obituary.

(*I guess I was not the only male member of the audience with short hair at the Guildford Civic Hall that night. According to Burch's book, a certain 17-year-old named Paul Weller was there, although, who knows? Maybe he had hair down to his arse until after seeing the show!

The date of this auspicious event was January 12th 1975. Before half the year was out I'd have a manager, a crack backing band, and a record deal. When I saw this gig I was just some bloke working in a gas station with no future that anyone, apart from myself, would have guessed at.)

Which brings us to this Official Bootleg, "Live At Newlands Tavern." On the My Gig List section of Johannes Deininger's excellent "Struck By Lightning" website, the first two gigs I did with the Rumour appear thus:

10 or 11/75: Newlands Tavern, London, UK
75: Nag's Head, High Wycombe, UK

The time period seems accurate to me, but starting in a fairly famous London venue runs counterintuitive to normal tactics in exposing a new band and also does not jibe with my admittedly dodgy memory. I'd say that we almost definitely performed in High Wycombe first and followed up with the London show. (I'll admit here that I could be wrong about the order!).
I can recall hanging around a soccer field or park in the afternoon shivering in the cold drizzle, smoking a joint and riddled with nerves about the upcoming evening. Why we were hanging around a field I don't know, but that vague memory is in my head and we were in High Wycombe, not London.
The audience that night was comprised mostly of pals of mine from various villages in Surrey who would have found the proximity of High Wycombe more appealing than a trek up to south London.

As for the show featured on this disc: who was that masked man? Whoever held the tape recorder appears to have been hanging out near the bar, which was located on the right as you looked at the stage. At the risk of sounding sexist I say "man" because surely finding a woman with a tape recorder at a gig in 1975 would be like finding a female Captain Beefheart fan in any era.
And what are we hearing on this tape?
Martin Belmont is doing the announcing (I don't say a word). And this may well be the complete show as far as my performance is concerned, but I'm sure the Rumour did their own set beforehand. I also remember something that does not appear here: Martin introduced me thus: "And now we'd like to bring on a friend of ours. Please welcome, Graham Parker." Yes, to blunt the shock of this unknown character taking the stage in a well-known London venue and completely taking over center stage, I was introduced almost as a sideman!
Talk about hedging your bets! In retrospect, this was probably a smart move seeing as Martin was from the classic Pub Rock band Ducks Deluxe and Bob and Brinsley were from the Brinsley Schwarz band, in many ways considered to be the epitome of this alleged genre.
Also, the next time we played London, after our profile had been upped considerably and articles about us had been appearing in the music press, Dave told me that some members of my growing audience had been at that first London gig in Newlands, and that they had hated my guts. It wasn't that they didn't like the music, and the applause on this recording seems quite rousing. It was the idea of this guy they'd never heard of, appearing from nowhere, and fronting a class A outfit consisting of London's finest as if they were a mere backing band that pissed them off.

What strikes me most about this tape is the full-grown ferocity of the performance. Not only do I sound as if I was already competing with the punk bands that were not to fully emerge until over a year later, but the Rumour sound as if they've been playing my stuff for years, and are rocking in suitably ferocious form themselves.
After those brief rehearsals and only one gig, it amazes me just how good we were already, and how far ahead of anything else going on at the time (Dr. Feelgood notwithstanding).
Gone is the almost apologetic "let's just play the songs, man" attitude of the pub rock scene that the band had come from, and my new found angst (I was lying around watching the ceiling changing shapes to a backdrop of "Dark Side Of The Moon" only a couple of years earlier) seems to have been picked up by everyone and applied with full force, making it seem as if we had planned this like a military operation.
It's hard to imagine where I got the balls to even consider doing "Chain Of Fools," and doing it as if I wanted to strangle the offending member of the opposite sex that the song details.
And the arrangements of my own songs seem very close to those on "Howlin' Wind," right down to some of Brinsley's sax lines (yes, that's Brinsley on the sax!) that would appear on the album fleshed out by a full horn section.
Even "Don't Ask Me Questions" has the brutal urgency of an anthem, just as it does on the record. How did we get this act together so quickly? Beats me.
Then there's the strange break in the show followed by a brief appearance of the Rumour without me, doing an instrumental they had been working on in rehearsals called "Rockin' Hawk" (don't know who did this originally) and then I'm back on doing two more songs that would appear on the first record and a song we probably never did again called "Express Delivery," which appears to use drug smuggling as a metaphor for lost love!
What also strikes me is the fantastic lead guitar work by Martin Belmont. It is assumed that Brinsley was the real virtuoso of the twin guitar attack and that Martin was more the rhythm player, but most of the solos are handled by Martin, and what an underrated lead player he is.
An interesting detail comes before "Questions," which Martin also plays lead on. It's hard to hear what he's saying before we start the song, but I believe Martin is commenting (and filling a rare silent gap) on Brinsley's reggae guitar technique. Brins would take a piece of foam and place it beneath his guitar strings near the bridge to achieve a deadened, ring-free sound. Where he'd got this idea from I don't know, but it was the early days of white boys playing reggae (apart from GT Moore and the Reggae Guitars who had made a great album in that groove that very year) and perhaps the form was still a little mysterious.

Although the sound of this recording is obviously of very low quality, the intensity of our act comes through nonetheless, and the noise of the audience ("white wine, white wine..." a woman appears to be repeating sluggishly at the bar) imbues the experience with that full-on London pub atmosphere, bringing a bygone era back into sharp focus.

Hey, it's gotta be worth ten bucks, that's for sure.
Available from this site and at gigs.